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Contemporary Jewellery

Artist and Designer Bio

Barbara Nanshe

Artist and Designer

My earliest memories were of reading about other places; looking after native animals and being in the bush and by the river in Tasmania.  I grew up in nature, by the river, the rocks, trees and animals. Its in my blood and my soul.   I am a conservationist and ecologist today.

In those early years I loved looking at materials in my dads shed and imagining what I could do with them. I often watched him make his projects and he showed me what each tool was used for.

My mother inspired me to design and make my own clothes. I had a tangible tug of war around what I wanted to give my time to. That was the beginning of my creative ideas and dreams.

In early 1983 I moved to Melbourne and completed a Pattern Design course, winning first place with my fashion designs incorporating ideas around the world of spiders. I had a realisation that it wasn't the complete vehicle for my expression.

I had not previously made jewellery,  I bought some beads and wire and coloured tube and dabbled with earring design. But I wanted more. I wanted the scope to design adornment that was more like assemblage art.

I moved back to Tasmania and enrolled in a 4 year Bachelor of Visual Arts degree at the University in Launceston in 1996. The foundation year enabled me to see what dominated my thoughts. I chose Sculpture as my major as it allowed me the freedom to think outside the box and make pieces that related to personal living space. 

Running parallel to sculpture was jewellery making. I built up my hand skills and used principles I was learning in sculpture, in my jewellery pieces. I had developed a love of collected, preloved elements to use with my hand made parts to allow me to build stories on the subjects that were important to me in my work.

I collected unusual pieces of stone; sculls, parts from clocks; cars, machinery, old buttons; buckles; beads, rocks and glass from the sea, anything that could lend itself to my story and design in either discipline. 

I would cut things up and put them back together in a way that pushed the story forward. I played with as many different materials as I could find, learning techniques to join them. I loved to solve problems of connecting different materials without glue and without solder.  That helped me to develop problem solving and play skills; also shape and movement in my pieces. As my hand skills developed so did my focus on the subject. 

I moved to New South Wales in 1989 as an exchange student and graduated with a 4 year BA in 1991.


6" Part Cow", 'Deconstruction of Woman' Several sculptures of mixed media, 1992

My sculptures were initially life size free standing works, commenting on elements of my life as a young woman. I thought they had to be life size to be relevant to personal space. Then I saw how my jewellery pieces affected people.  I made single earring creations from recycled metals and found parts. They were like miniature sculptures for the ear. People could wear art! They felt original, unique. It was like adornment could connect them to their thoughts!

I continued to visualise my sculptural ideas in jewellery form.  I feel at home exploring my ideas through both. I dabbled in silver casting to make goddess forms for women to wear, to connect them to their bodies, the moon, the earth, animals. 

I realised my passion lay in the use of multiple materials to impart a full story. I started to weave copper forms to represent the weaving of creation and women's traditional work.

I included pieces in group exhibitions until my ideas formed collections of combined Jewellery, sculpture and collage. At least 4 of my early solo exhibitions of Collage Jewellery and sculpture, before 2006, included around 100 pieces in the theme collection. I used titles such as "Womens Work" and "Temple Treasures" and "A Temple for My Familiar"

 “Epiphany”Carved Tasmanian Serpentine; Tasmanian Mudstone; Salvaged and polished Baltic Amber; 100% recycled sterling silver.

Epiphany” was the inspiration for so much work that came after 1999. I was already in love with story telling and loved the extra dimension that carving faces into stones and creating layers and text provided.

I have built my hand skills up over 38 years. My process is informed by the knowledge of materials; the way they behave and the appropriate techniques for a successful outcome. I think the more I understand materials and techniques, the more freedom in design I can achieve. This in turn leads to choosing the right process and technique, including digital printing, to execute contemporary ideas more fluidly.  

Contemporary design for me relates to the issues and sensitivities of the time I live in: Conservation; anti war; animal welfare; gender equality and fluidity; personal empowerment and connection all inform my subject matter.

Environmental issues around sustainable mining, pollution; treatment of animals and global warming concern me and inform my material choices. My first choice for materials in my work, is second hand. 

Materials and sustainability are important contemporary issues facing us today. The materials we use shine a spotlight on our beliefs. I think as contemporary artists we have an obligation to consider the source of materials used in our work. Our contemporary ideas should be based on choosing sustainable and ethically sourced materials.

I choose recycled gold and silver and copper; locally sourced, cut and salvaged stones primarily in my jewellery pieces. I don’t use leather, bone or elephant tusk or buy coral. I use salvaged coral from 2nd hand jewellery if my piece specifically calls for it. 


“Aranyani Follows the Moon to The Forest”  2019                

Tasmanian Serpentine collected and carved in Tasmania; linen and synthetic cord; One Use Clay Tobacco Pipe parts I collected from the Thames River, London 2016 (pre and post C1750); Sterling silver is 100% recycled. 

The piece represents my love for the forest and driving my car, packed with camping gear, to my favourite river to swim and connect with trees, animals and the moon. That connection transforms me and teaches the value of the natural world.  My love of Indian Culture informs the name Aranyani, the Goddess of the forest and wild animals. 

Contemporary jewellery is continuing to push boundaries that traditional jewellery does not.  I think more jewellers are using non traditional materials and combining a variety of materials in pieces that are more like sculpture for the body;  tell stories; highlight a postmodern concern; revamp traditional pieces to reflect personal preferences. More and more people are interested in more expressive and personalised statements and more are interested in the ethical source of materials.

Processes as digital printing and CAD design are playing more of a part in contemporary jewellery design. This seems to be very useful for repeat pieces; detailed work and allowing a drawing to come to life without having the skill to render it by hand. 

 In July 2023 I exhibited 17 wall sculptures in a solo exhibition Titled "Change Direction Now - Metamorphosis".

I found it so exhilarating to see all the pieces in my collection together in the one space.

Im currently conceptualising an exhibition for the next collection of my contemporary jewellery. It is around domestic animals and will include mixed recycled metals; words; antique pottery chards and other found elements.

 I have managed my 120 acre property for conservation for 25 years now. I have managed programs to support the wildlife and bring back the native plants. 

I Live and work in Newcastle but Wallarobba  is where I go to unwind and enjoy the wildlife that I protect. 


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